NOSTALGIA, say the cynics, is not what it used to be. Not so - not when you have met someone like Alan Jowett, who has become a best selling author is his later years by breathing life back into the great days of steam.

But he does not just write about the past but tells hilarious anecdotes about it. I mean, it takes someone with a very big funny bone to make you giggle with stories about the life of a rural bank official.

Alan, 70 next year and now retired to a splendid cottage at Laycock, near Sutton-in-Craven, spent most of his working life at Barclays, many of them as "under-manager" - a proper, old fashioned title, that - on Skipton High Street.

He didn't really want a career in the bank but his mother employed powerful persuasion with good reason: his father, a professional musician who played in cinemas in the days of the silent movies, spent two years on the dole in the dreadful slump of the 1930s. Mum wanted better for her boy.

Born in Bradford, he spent much of his working life in the Dales when Barclays prided itself on its rural branches (how things have changed) and, thankfully, that other Tyke Dick Turpin was long dead.

Otherwise, he would have made his fortune with some ease.

"When I started, money for our branch in Buckden was brought over the tops from Hawes by pony and trap," he remembers with a little gleam in his eye. "But there was a series of bad winters and the pony couldn't get through. So it was decided to modernise.

"Instead, the money for the branches in Grassington, Kettlewell and Buckden was taken by a man on the bus from Skipton. Because of the timetable, he had to leave at 8.30 in the morning and didn't get back to late at night, so we never saw him."

As under manager, it was Alan's job to go and check the accounts in Grassington. He never actually got as far as Buckden but his face twists into a grin as he recalls: "It must have been a funny little branch in a church hall or something similar.

"I know this because when the cashier there was not very busy - which was most of the time - he played the organ. He became very proficient, I believe."

The mind boggles. An organist in one of today's gleaming steel and glass banks? Now there's something that really would attract customers!

However, in his long career in the bank, Alan pursued a secret hobby: he was a keen amateur cartographer, having made his first map at the age of seven, and was also obsessed with the way railways operated in the aforesaid great days of steam.

As a lad, he would go to the station at Great Horton, Bradford, to work out how trains moved across the country's then huge railway network. Saturday mornings were a must because, on that day, the Halifax-London Pullman was diverted through Horton. Did anyone out there ever dream that there ever was a Halifax Pullman?

Unlike other boys, however, he did not collect engine numbers. Instead, he collected timetables and railway maps, showing how the various privately owned lines connected up (there's something familiar about that).

Unknowingly, he was laying the foundationsto a career as a best-selling author, a career which was not to blossom for another 50 years.

As retirement approached, he began work on a railway atlas of Great Britain and Ireland in those pre-war days when nationalisation was a glint in young socialist eyes.

Now this was a remarkable project in many ways.

He toiled at it for eight hours a night, whilst still working full time, a routine which must have caused his wife, Frances, mother of their six children, some anxiety.

The reason: this was no ordinary typewritten manuscript but a labour of love.

Alan wrote the history in beautiful hand printing (he says his normal handwriting is "terrible") and he hand-painted every single railway map, complete with stations, towns, rivers and contours.

The result: a book which sold 30,000 copies at the whacking price of £30 a copy. This is a quite staggering figure when a well-known novelist who sells 10,000 hardback copies at £15 apiece considers himself lucky.

Now retired and with plenty of energy to spare, Alan penned-and-painted a second epistle, this time showing the growth of railway towns over some 150 years, and has a third out now: Jowett's Nationalised Railway Atlas, on sale from Atlantic Publishers at the even more formidable price of £39.99p. In the trade, they expect it to sell like hot cakes.

Now I am not a railway buff (having braved the disgusting shambles of the Skipton-Leeds run for many years) but these books are true works of art, not quite the Book of Kells perhaps but on a par with The Diary of an Edwardian Gentlewoman.

Who says that nostalgia is dead?